Online PhD in Leadership

Both campus and online PhD Leadership programs typically take five or six years to complete, which will depend largely on how efficiently a student is able to finish the dissertation requirement. The first four semesters are generally reserved for instruction, consisting of highly specialized courses in organizational leadership and business management; during this phase, students will also be developing a dissertation topic, culled from the instructional material and their personal interests. Assignments in these classes will take the form of projects and papers, which should, again, aid in the selection of a dissertation topic. Some programs will additionally have students volunteer, intern, or work for professional experience that will corroborate the material presented in class. Once the instructional segment of the PhD is completed, students will be required to formulate a prospectus for their dissertations, and propose it to a panel or committee of faculty members. Before beginning intensive research on the dissertation, however, students will take a comprehensive General Examination—an exhaustive, demanding test of all the material PhD candidates have learned. The rest of the PhD is dedicated to researching, composing, completing the dissertation, with the final hurdle being a student's defense of her dissertation to her committee. After the defense has been successfully made, and the committee has approved it, a student will be eligible to graduate with a PhD in Leadership.

About Online PhD Programs in Leadership

The most substantial difference between campus PhD and online PhD programs in Leadership is instructional method and frequency. An online PhD in Leadership can be pursued from home, as courses and correspondence with professors are conducted online, at the pace the student chooses. The content, quality, and variety of the courses are comparable to—and probably superior to some—campus courses, and though instructors teaching in online doctoral programs in Leadership cannot answer questions in the usual discursive way, they are responsive and readily available online. Students usually enroll in no more than three courses per semester, and are encouraged to spend at least 5 hours, and as many as 20, per week per course. Online doctorate degrees in Leadership are divided into two distinct working concentrations, similar to traditional PhD programs: the first being specialized courses in Leadership designed to foster a sense of academic and professional reflection in students and their leadership practices, and to assist them in choosing their dissertation topics; the second being the General Exam and the dissertation itself. Additionally, at key points during the instructional portion of the degree, students enrolled in Leadership PhD programs online are required to complete residencies—commonly between three and six days—to supplement their instruction with practical application in a social setting.

For a picture of the coursework that goes along with online doctoral programs, study the list below, taken from Capella University's course catalog:

Year One:

  • Managing and Organizing People: . Introduces students to theories of organizational behavior, and the issues and challenges associated with managing and leading.
  • Marketing Strategy and Practice:. Primarily theoretical presentation of the factors that influence marketing strategy and how to systematically identify them. Students will use marketing theory to evaluate opportunities, identify market segments, and formulate appropriate strategies.
  • Accounting and Financial Management:. Gives students a framework within which to view, analyze, and make financial decisions in organizations, based on the application of financial and accounting theory.

Year Two:

  • Quantitative Research Techniques:. Exploration of fundamental concepts of quantitative research methods, including dependencies among research design, measurement, and analysis; variable types and levels of measurement; and descriptive and inferential statistics.
  • Principles of Organization Theory and Practice:. An overview of organization with an emphasis on integrating research into evaluations and diagnoses of organizational effectiveness.
  • Management Theory Creation:. Examination of the scientific, philosophical, methodological, and psychological dimensions of management research and theory, and the ways in which all these approaches work together to formulate a theory. Students will analyze and report on the elements of a scientific study and evaluate the ontological, axiological, and epistemological assumptions underlying qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods studies.

Year Three:

  • Advanced Qualitative Research:. Investigation of qualitative inquiry and various qualitative research designs based on social constructivist, interpretive, and critical-theory/transformative traditions appropriate for research in organization and management. Course topics include strategies for data collection and bounding, data analysis and coding, visual mapping and portrayal, drawing and verification of conclusions from data, and qualitative research presentation.
  • Applied Multivariate Modeling:. Introduction to and later application of sophisticated research modeling techniques in designs where there are many variables. Topics include exploratory data analysis, multiple regression, logistic regression, correlation, multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), factorial analysis of variance (ANOVA), factor analysis and principal components, discriminant analysis, structural equation modeling, and emerging data analysis techniques.
  • Survey Research Methodology:. More instruction in the competencies, skills, and techniques required to conduct successful data gathering and analysis. Students will learn strategies for developing questionnaires, surveys, interview questions and schedules, and the appropriate and most effective way of delivering and interpreting these results from these items.

Year Four:

  • Theories of Leadership:. A survey of the historical, current, and emerging theories of leadership, with a focus on evaluation and application, and an investigation into the roles of leaders in more and more complex organizational structures.
  • Leading at the Top: The Upper Echelon:. A practical, normative examination of leadership at the executive level, namely the relationship between leaders and executive boards and markets, and effective tools leaders at this level can use.
  • Global Executive/Manager Development:. Reviews the theories and models of global enterprise system leaders and managers; students will prepare a development plan for their own leadership and management skills portfolio.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Leadership

For students with the ambition to be leaders in the professional world, an online PhD in Leadership is greatly beneficial. Besides gaining a broad knowledge of management style and theory, as well as motivational tools and organizational change strategies, students in the top online doctorate programs in Leadership will learn the reflective techniques, psychological temperament, and behavioral patterns that make great professional, local, and global leaders. Moreover, fulfilling the requirements of an online doctorate in Leadership, without the direct supervision and counseling of a professor, inspires the confidence and self-direction that it takes to be a leader. As positive as online PhD degrees in Leadership can be for students, however, it is important that they bolster the degree with real-world leadership experience. Whether accurately or not, potential employers will very probably see an applicant's online PhD and assume that she has no physical experience in leadership, favoring graduates from a more conventional, face-to-face program—and they will be partly right. Leadership is a dynamic quality, one that requires the ability to adapt behavior to new situations and personalities. It is fundamentally an interpersonal enterprise, and therefore it is difficult to fully realize that enterprise online, where even the best leadership can only be abstract.

Application & Admission Requirements

The application process for online Leadership PhD programs is similar to that of campus based programs—students will fill out an application form, and, along with supporting materials, submit it to the school to which they are applying. Supporting materials for Online PhD Leadership applications will vary, but usually consist of transcripts, at least three letters of recommendation (if any are required), a resume, and a statement of purpose outlining the student's reasons for applying to the program, and what distinguishes her from others. To be admitted, students must hold a master's degree, and are generally required to have graduated with a 3.0 GPA from the institution where they completed their master's. In any survey of candidates applying to online doctorate programs in Leadership a wide array of master's degrees will represented; students from disciplines such as Business, Accounting, Education Leadership, Education Administration, Human Resources, Global Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Management, Leadership Studies, Communication, and Marketing have entered into online Leadership PhD programs and graduated with equal success. In addition to relevant work experience in leadership—management positions, volunteer chair work, event coordination, etc.—students should possess the ability to make decisions and defend them, to facilitate organizational change, to inspire confidence in others, and the ability and desire to lead others in a positive direction with dedication, integrity and a sufficient knowledge base, in order to succeed in obtaining their Leadership doctorate degrees online.

Career Options & Job Market

Online doctoral degrees in Leadership can be applied toward a wide variety of careers, but graduates typically remain in academia, to teach leadership skills and theory to other students. Perhaps more often than with other degrees, however, graduates take administrative positions, especially in the education system, and go on to be principals, department chairs, or administrators in district central offices. These positions oversee and manage public and private elementary, middle, and secondary schools, developing and supervising curriculum standards, codes of conduct, and performance goals and objectives. They are often responsible for directing meetings, maintaining and renewing vision, and disciplining employees. To be hired at this upper level usually requires starting at lower positions, but employers look for demonstrated leadership skills, both in job performance and in formal education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of positions in the educational administrator field will grow by 8 percent over the next decade, which is about as fast as the average for all fields. Especially in pre-elementary, elementary, and secondary schools, more and more administrators will be needed, as more children are being enrolled daycare programs, and more adults are enrolling in secondary education programs, specifically distance education programs—as enrollment in these institutions increases, positions in educational administration will be created.


Where to Find Information

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics: There are many other fields than educational administration to which graduates of online doctoral programs in Leadership can apply—businesses, non-profit organizations, and governments all require and reward leadership skills and training. The Bureau of Labor Statistics will prove very useful in researching other careers that students with an online PhD in Leadership might be interested in.
  • Center for Association Leadership: The Center for Association Leadership, supported by the American Society of Association Executives Foundation—a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of association and non-profit leadership—provides learning opportunities and resources, ideas, and campaign assets for the benefit of leaders in association and non-profit organizations.
  • American Association of School Administrators: The American Association of School Administrators is an educational advocacy organization that seeks the highest possible quality education for all public schools, and develops and supports leaders in the field.
  • U.S. Department of Education: The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of Educational Associations and Organizations, all of which will be of interest to students with an online PhD in Leadership.

How to Get Funding

The basic forms of funding available to students in online PhD programs in Leadership are scholarships and grants. Scholarships are awards for exemplary talent or achievement, or who represent a minority or underserved population; grants are funds given to for research, or—as with government student grants—for demonstrated financial need. General tuition costs for one semester or quarter vary from school to school, but to give a preliminary picture of what total expenses for an online doctorate in Leadership will be, here are the tuition prices of two online universities:

1) Capella University—$4,566 per quarter, with a limit of three courses per quarter (except dissertation quarters, which are $4,062)

2) Northcentral University—$2,200 per course.

That puts total cost for Capella University somewhere between $43,644 and $51,768, and around $22,000 for Northcentral University. The following websites will be instrumental in a search for funds for a Leadership PhD online:

  • FastWeb. FastWeb is a scholarship search engine that matches existing scholarships with qualifications and interests of members. Membership is free, and the searches retrieve hits that are numerous and varied enough to fund an online doctorate in Leadership if students are aggressive in their search.
  • Chick-fil-A Leadership Scholarship Program. The fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A offers $1,000 scholarships to select employees who demonstrate leadership and activity in their communities and are enrolled in a college program. This is just one example of the many scholarships available to students pursuing online PhD degrees in Leadership; not all require employment with the sponsoring company or organization.
  • FAFSA. The Federal government disperses billions of dollars into the education system every year to fund students seeking secondary and post-secondary education. They offer scholarships, grants, and loans to any eligible student that fills out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Essential Advice

  • Students should supplement their online PhD degrees in Leadersihp with real-world experience in leadership. Whether you plan to stay in academia or venture out in the wide leadership world, practical knowledge will give you a competitive edge, as well as a deeper understanding of what it means to be a leader. Employers will most likely be wary even of an accredited online leadership doctorate that is not supported by efforts in the real-world to be a leader. Remember that, as much as you can learn about leadership, the only way to succeed in being a leader is to lead.
  • Get started developing your dissertation topic early, using material from classes as a launching pad. The online Leadership doctorate dissertation will be for most students the longest sustained research effort of their academic career; don't wait until the semester you enroll in the dissertation course to make note of the topics that interest you, and what branch of leadership excites you the most. Collecting information and formulating research ideas early will facilitate the writing of the dissertation and ease some of the anxiety common at the beginning of the project.